One of my favorite fiction writers is James Patterson. I recently discovered his books and have been reading one after another. The good news is reading fiction books can help with understanding fiction writing techniques that can then be adapted for memoir writing.
It was a cool morning so I donned my comfortable old sweats. I grabbed a steaming cup of black coffee and my new book, Now You See Her by James Patterson, and headed for my reading chair. I got fixed in the chair with my legs drawn underneath me and opened the book. As soon as I read the first paragraph, I checked to make sure I was reading the right book. I was. I read through the prologue and started on part one before I stopped and smiled.
It was reading like a memoir.
The prologue was present day — what was happening in the here and now. When I got to part one, it switched to a time in the past. A lot of memoirs do this. I personally think it gives more depth to the story if you are writing it in a present day — past story — present day sort of format. After all, that’s how our memories work. And, he writes in the first person so it just reinforced the memoir-ness of the story for me.
I made some notes as I was reading through the story. He really is a gifted writer. I always feel like I am right there, seeing things as the protagonist sees them. Learning to write is not easy but if — for your homework — you get to read all genres of books, at least it’s fun.
Agents and publishers are always saying memoirs need to be written using fiction techniques. So, reading fiction seems like a good place to start. What does fiction have that can be used in a memoir?
- Dialog — Character dialog is how the story is told. This is an excellent tool to add to a memoir. You know what people said, what you said — you have to it’s part of your story. Write it in dialog scenes and let the reader follow along as though it’s happening now.
- Write details. A reader has to know where the story takes place and where in time they are. They become grounded to the story with these additions to your writing.
- Show as much as you can in your writing. While telling is a necessary part of memoir, showing brings the story to life for a reader. Remember, readers are smart. They like to draw conclusions themselves not be lead through a story by the nose — being told everything. Put them in your shoes by showing them, through words, how you felt. Don’t say “I was sad when she died.” Say “I felt a single tear roll down my cheek as I looked back at the casket.”
Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I giggled at how well Mr. Patterson did at writing the book from the view of a 39-40 year old woman. Impressive. Remember to read. Write down things you like or don’t like from a book. It will help you immensely with your writing.